With relaxed federal restraints on the process of irradiation, plants in New Jersey are gearing up to irradiate food, in addition to their current service, which is sterilizing medical supplies by irradiating them (exposing them to radioactivity). Radiation of food is being promoted as an alternative to treat food with pesticides, fungicides, and other preservatives.
Critics of irradiation, including environmentalists and antinuclear groups, say all the chemical byproducts of the process aren't fully understood and may pose cancer risks. They say irradiation will increase the hazards of producing, transporting and storing the radioactive isotopes to treat the food. With seven irradiation plants in the state, New Jersey is one of the leading centers of the irradiation industry. Radiation Technology Inc. of Rockaway has two irradiation plants in the state and is building a third. Isomedix, Inc. of Whippany, the country's biggest irradiation company, is building its first all-food irradiation plant in California.
The American Medical Association (AMA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other supporters of
irradiation say the process greatly increases the shelf life of fruits, vegetables and meats, reducing dangers
of food-borne illnesses and lessening world hunger by reducing the spoilage that some estimates say claim
a quarter of the global production of food. Twenty countries, including Japan, the Netherlands and South
Africa, irradiate their food. In the U.S., only spices (only 1% of them) are treated with radiation. In April,
1986 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), having already approved irradiating potatoes, onions and
spices, issued rules allowing the treatment of some fruits, vegetables and pork at restricted doses. The FDA
says its new rules, with an estimated dilution of radiolytic products (the chemical byproducts of irradiation)
at 3 parts per million of consumable food, is so minuscule as to pose little threat to humans.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: nj; ama; who; fda; food; food irradiation; radiation; pesticides; preservatives; fungicides; radiation technology, inc.; isomedix, inc.; japan; netherlands; south africa; food safety;